• Switzerland's news in English
Geneva exhibition marks 200 years of Frankenstein
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Geneva exhibition marks 200 years of Frankenstein

AFP · 13 May 2016, 08:30

Published: 13 May 2016 08:30 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

To mark 200 years since English author Mary Shelley first imagined the ultimate horror story during a visit to a frigid, rain-drenched Switzerland, an exhibit opens in Geneva on Friday called "Frankenstein, Creation of Darkness".
In the dimly-lit, expansive basement at the Martin Bodmer Foundation, a long row of glass cases holds 15 hand-written, yellowed pages from a notebook where Shelley in 1816 wrote the first version of what is considered a masterpiece of romantic literature.
"... I beheld the wretch -- the miserable monster whom I had created; he held up the curtain, and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me," she wrote.
The idea for her "miserable monster" came when at just 18 she and her future husband, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, went to a summer home -- the Villa Diodati -- rented by literary great Lord Byron on the outskirts of Geneva.
The current private owners of the picturesque manor overlooking Lake Geneva will also open their lush gardens to guided tours during the nearby exhibit which runs to October 9th.

Lord Byron's challenge

While the spot today is lovely, with pink and purple lilacs spilling from the terraces and gravel walkways winding through rose-covered arches, in the summer of 1816 the atmosphere was more somber.
A massive eruption from the Tambora volcano in Indonesia wreaked havoc with the global climate that year, and a weather report for Geneva in June on display at the exhibit mentions "not a single leaf" had yet appeared on the oak trees.
To pass the time, poet Lord Byron challenged the band of literary bohemians gathered at the villa to each invent a ghost story, resulting in several famous pieces of writing.
English doctor and author John Polidori came up with the idea for The Vampyre, which was published three years later and is considered to have pioneered the romantic vampyre genre, including works like Bram Stoker's Dracula.
That book figures among a multitude of first editions at the Geneva exhibit, including three copies of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus -- the most famous story to emerge from the competition.
When first published in 1818 it did not bear Shelley's name, and one of the yellowed editions in the exhibit, presented as a gift to the man who sparked its creation, is inscribed merely "To Lord Byron from the Author".
"Her name was unknown. It would not have done anything for the sale of the book. Especially a feminine name," explained David Spurr, an English literature professor at the University of Geneva and curator of the exhibit.

'Trying to play God'?

Despite her young age, Mary Shelley -- the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft -- tapped into widespread angst about the increasing power of science and technology.
Shelley does not reveal in her book the secret "spark of being" that Victor Frankenstein discovers and uses to bring his creature to life, but the result of his hubris is depicted in all its horror.
Rejected by its maker, the creature turns into a vengeful monster who murders Frankenstein's baby brother, his best friend and his love the night before their wedding.
More than simply marking the 200th anniversary of the conception of Frankenstein, Spurr said the exhibit along with a range of activities seek to highlight how relevant the novel remains as science and technology advance at breakneck speed.
"The fundamental questions raised about science and about the human capacity to create human life, or to modify or to intervene in the process of the creation of human life ... are still very actual and are still a source of anxiety," he said, pointing for instance to DNA research and tinkering with human reproduction.
Nicolas Ducimetiere, vice director of the Martin Bodmer Foundation, agreed.
"How far can scientific creativity go without trying to play God, or creating something that will be a scourge for humanity?" he asked.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Police discover body buried in Orbe house
File photo: Bas Leenders

Police have opened an investigation after finding a body buried in a house in Orbe, in the canton of Vaud, on Saturday.

Valais shaken by 4.2 magnitude earthquake
The earthquake hit in the canton of Valais near Sierre. Photo: Alain Rouiller

It's the biggest earthquake to hit the country for two years.

Swiss Indoors kicks off without champ Federer
Federer celebrates with ball girls and boys after winning the event in 2015. Photo: Harold Cunningham/Pool/AFP

Stan Wawrinka is top seed as injured Federer sits it out.

IOC hires Russian doping whistleblower as consultant
IOC President Thomas Bach confirmed the news. File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has hired Vitaly Stepanov as a consultant and is helping his runner wife Yuliya.

‘Scary clown’ craze hits streets of Zurich
Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP

Police in Zurich have warned so-called ‘scary clowns’ that they could face charges, following a number of incidents in the city.

VIDEO: driver chases runaway car on Swiss motorway
Image: Neuchâtel police

Shocking footage shows the moment a man dodged lorries to chase after his runaway car on a Swiss motorway.

Saas-Fee crowdfunds low-cost season ski pass
Saas-Fee is hoping to attract 99,999 season pass holders. Photo: Denis Emery/Photo-genic.ch

Skiers could get their hands on a whole season pass for just 222 francs ($223) in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee this winter – if enough people want one.

Swiss billionaire fined for dodging import tax
Urs Schwarzenbach owns the luxury Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich. Photo: Wilhem Rosenkranz

Urs Schwarzenbach faces a $4 million fine for failing to properly declare some 200 artworks imported into Switzerland.

Muslim woman wins headscarf court battle
Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

A Swiss court has ruled against a company that fired a longtime employee after she began wearing the Muslim headscarf.

Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
jobs available